Lehrstuhl für Zell- und Entwicklungsbiologie

Markus Engstler

Corpora non agunt nisi ligatat ...

Markus Engstler

... is a molecular cell biologist with substantial interest in infection biology and (bio)physics. He graduated from Christian Albrecht University of Kiel where he also received a doctorate in biochemistry. Markus spent his postdoctoral time at The Rockefeller University (New York) and the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (Martinsried). He further developed his quantitative approaches to study cells as a project group leader at the Free University of Berlin and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Following habilitation in Genetics (LMU Munich), he was appointed Professor of Genetics at Darmstadt University of Technology. Since 2009, Markus Engstler is Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg. Among other duties, he continues to act as a member of numerous scientific advisory boards, as well as an editor for several journals. He has served as dean and vice-dean of faculty, and is founding director of the Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology (CCTB). Markus Engstler is also a founding member of DNTDs, the German Network Against Neglected Tropical Diseases, and Vice-chairman of the German Society for Parasitology. He has recently co-founded the German Center for multisectorial fight against Neglected tropical diseases, which will start operation in the end of 2020. Markus Engstler is also speaker of the new DFG priority programme SPP 2332 "Physics of Parasitism" 

since 2009 Chair and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Würzburg

2006 - 2009 Professor of Genetics, Technical 
University, Darmstadt

2004 Habilitation, LMU Munich

2001-2004 Research Project Leader, LMU 

1998-2001 Senior Staff Scientist, Free University of Berlin

1996-1998 Postdoc, MPI Martinsried

1994-1996 Postdoc, The Rockefeller University, New York

1994-1999 DKFZ postdoctoral fellow

1994 Dr. rer. nat, University of Kiel



Tel ++49 93131 84250 (PA)

Tel ++49 93131 80060

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Research synopsis

We have been using African trypanosomes as a cell biology model for more than 20 years. Early biochemical work unraveled trans-sialylation, a novel mechanism of protein glycosylation, which was later shown to be critically involved in pathogenesis. Research on the control of parasite development led to new paradigms for the molecular basis of trypanosome stage differentiation. Cold-shock and chemical sensing function cooperatively in the initiation of stage transition and the routing of the major surface coat proteins is differentially regulated throughout the parasite’s life cycle. The characterization and mapping of the endocytic recycling pathways in T. brucei using quantitative fluorescence and EM methods has paved the way for trypanosomes to become a more generally accepted model system. The kinetics of plasma membrane recycling is extremely fast and the parasites harbour morphologically and functionally well-defined endosomes. A novel mechanism for the sorting of GPI-anchored proteins appears to be present (not only) in trypanosomes. This work also suggested that rapid endocytosis could be essential for trypanosome survival. The parasites continuously swim and thereby generate directional flow fields on their cell surface. These flow forces become functional when the surface coat, which is dominated by variant surface glycoproteins (VSG), is attacked by host immunoglobulins. Hydrodynamic forces drag antibody-VSG complexes towards the rear of the cell, where they are endocytosed. Thus, pure physical forces can sort proteins in the plane of the plasma membrane.

Antibody clearance raised the question how trypanosomes actually swim and if this phenomenon is functional in natural infection. This could only be addressed in collaboration with partners in Africa on the one hand, and physicists and mathematicians on the other hand. Trypanosomes reveal an amazingly complex motion behaviour in vitro and in the diverse and crowded environments of the host. Different trypanosome species have adapted to distinct infection niches, such as the circulation or tissue spaces. And the parasites not only swim in the mammal, but also in the insect vector, where they form giant swarms. Most recent work unraveled that trypanosomes are dynamic at various scales: the first complete structures of VSGs revealed an unprecedented molecular flexibility that accounts for different populations of VSGs on the cell surface of trypanosomes diffusing at different rates.

Recent Publications

Krüger T, Engstler, M (2020) Motility Analysis of Trypanosomatids. Methods Mol Bio 2116:409-423 doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0294-2_25.

Rose C., Casas-Sánchez A., Dyer N.A., Solórzano C., Beckett A.J., Middlehurst B., Marcello M., Haines L.R., Lisack J., Engstler M., Lehane MJ., Prior I.A., Acosta-Serrano Á. (2020). Trypanosoma brucei colonizes the tsetse gut via an immature peritrophic matrix in the proventriculus. Nature Microbiology doi: 10.1038/s41564-020-0707-z.

Krüger T, Engstler M (2018) The Fantastic Voyage of the Trypanosome: A Protean Micromachine Perfected during 500 Million Years of Engineering. Micromachines 9(2), 63; doi.org/10.3390/mi9020063

Muthinja JM, Ripp J, Kruger T, Imle A, Haraszti T, Fackler OT, Spatz JP, Engstler M, Frischknecht F (2018) Tailored environments to study motile cells and pathogens. Cell Microbiol. doi.org/10.1111/cmi.12820

Bartossek T, Jones NG, Schäfer C, Cvitković M, Glogger M, Mott HR, Kuper J, Brennich M, Carrington M, Smith A-S, Fenz S, Kisker C, Engstler M. (2017) Structural basis for the shielding function of the dynamic 
trypanosome VSG coat. Nature Microbiology 2, 1523–1532 doi.org/10.1038/s41564-017-0013-6

Schuster, S., Krüger, T., Subota, I., Thusek, S., Rotureau, B., Beilhack, A., Engstler, M. (2017) Developmental adaptations of trypanosome motility to the tsetse fly host environments unravel a multifaceted in vivo microswimmer system. eLife, 2017 Aug 15;6. pii: e27656. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.27656.

Zimmermann, H., Subota, I.; Batram, C, Kramer, S, Janzen, C, Jones, N, Engstler, M (2017) A Quorum Sensing-independent Path to Stumpy Development in Trypanosoma brucei. Plos Pathogens doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1006324

Glogger, M., Subota, I., Pezzarossa, A., Denecke, A.-L., Carrington, M., Fenz, S.F., Engstler, M. (2017) Facilitating trypanosome imaging, Experimental Parasitology doi.org/10.1016/j.exppara.2017.03.010.

Markert SM, Bauer V, Muenz TS, Jones NG, Helmprobst F, Britz S, Sauer M, Rössler W, Engstler M, Stigloher C. (2017) 3D subcellular localization with superresolution array tomography on ultrathin sections of various species. Methods Cell Biol. 140:21-47. doi.org/10.1016/bs.mcb.2017.03.004. PMID: 28528634

Glogger, M; Stichler, S; Subota, I; Bertlein, S; Spindler, M; Tessmar, J; Groll, J; Engstler, M; Fenz, SF (2017) Live-cell super-resolution imaging of intrinsically fast moving flagellates, Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics,50,7,074004 

Morriswood B, Engstler M. (2017) Let's get fISSical: fast in silico synchronization as a new tool for cell division cycle analysis. Parasitology. 2017 Feb 7:1-14. doi.org/10.1017/S0031182017000038. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 28166845